National survey shows independent butchers cutting better deal for people and planet
National Craft Butchers (NCB) has released the results of its Big British Butchers Survey 2023, offering an insight into one of the cornerstones of the struggling UK high street. While reporting generally steady trading conditions across the country, with 56.49% indicating a higher turnover in 2022 than 2021, the survey also highlighted the positive impact of independent butchers on the local economy, local communities and in reducing the weekly shop’s carbon footprint.
In contrast to the substantial food miles associated with most supermarket meat products, the Big British Butchers Survey 2023 found that 87.5% of respondents prioritised local produce, a slight increase from 86.5% in 2021, with the majority estimating their average food mile at under 25 miles. 80% also reported taking decisive action to reduce their carbon footprint over the past two years, with 70% moving to recycled or compostable packaging, 54.97% improving their waste management practices and 29.81% investing in electric vehicles or renewable energy.
The survey also found community support and involvement alive and well amongst the nation’s independent butchers, as 84.32% of respondents claimed to be actively supporting their local community. Among the most commonly reported initiatives, 73.51% supported local charities, 47.57% sponsored a local sports team and 30.27% worked with a local food bank or provided replacement school meals.
While clearly underlining the positive impact that independent butchers are having on their local areas, the Big British Butchers Survey has once again shone a spotlight on the challenges facing this embattled industry. 19.79% have changed their business hours in the past 12 months, with 38.1% citing rising energy costs as an influential factor and 22.22% pointing to staffing issues. Reliance on small abattoirs remains a big issue for many as well, with 67.4% believing that a local abattoir closure would substantially affect their business.
Age also appears to represent a sizeable threat to the future of independent butchery in the UK, as 49.74% of surveyed business owners were aged 56 or above and 25.68% plan to retire in the next five years. Similarly, 59.89% believe the average age of their customer base to be between 46-59, suggesting the need for significant customer acquisition in order to maintain current levels of income over the coming years.
This year’s survey results would suggest that independent butchers are working hard to mitigate these factors through an online presence, with 70% having a website, 95.74% using social media channels and 42.37% offering an ecommerce platform, up from 38% in 2021. 82.12% said that they would welcome an apprentice into the business, although only 33.15% had one in place at the time of the survey, down from 35.47% in 2021.
Eleanor O’Brien, managing director of National Craft Butchers, commented: “We’re delighted to be publishing the results of our second Big British Butchers Survey, as this provides us with comparative results for the first time and offers a valuable health-check on independent butchery at a time when the cost-of-living crisis bears down on us all. We believe the results appropriately reflect the fantastic work that butchers are doing on high streets and in communities across the UK, from cutting food miles and carbon emissions to supporting local initiatives. There’s plenty of room for positivity and optimism here, but the threats are very real. The future of independent butchery in the UK will be reliant on support from local communities and timely policy making in government, if we’re to avoid the continual erosion of this traditional and highly skilled craft.”
The full results of the Big British Butchers Survey 2023 are available here.